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Home > Partitioned Regions > The Balkans > Overview > Overview

The Balkans: Overview
Situated at an especially vulnerable crossroads between the civilizations of the west and the east, the Balkan states have been divided by successive empires for most of their history. Their first recorded partition was in the 3rd century BC, when the Holy Roman Empire separated Europe into western and eastern wings.

Map Courtesy of the National Geographic Society
Map B.1: The Balkan States
(click to enlarge - 1.35MB file)

Ironically, several centuries after the decline of the Roman Empire, the division of Europe into a Catholic west and an Orthodox east followed the partition lines set by the Romans, and reappeared through centuries of conquest, empire and dissolution.

In the 1990s, when most central and east European countries began a transition from communism to democracy, Yugoslavia fragmented violently along religious fault lines, between Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and between Christians and Muslims.

By the end of the 20th century, the former Yugoslavia was littered with potential and de facto partitions, in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia. But international intervention also helped broker a series of peace agreements that seek, to a lesser or greater extent, to reverse the partitions that continue to be established on the ground.

Can the internationally brokered peace processes in the former Yugoslavia work? Policy opinion is sharply divided on this issue. Many analysts argue that the ethnic demography, history, and/or recent conflict in the Balkans are such that redrawing borders is the only way to bring long-term stability to the region.

"The Dayton Agreement posits bipartite partition, but there are three competing parties in Bosnia.. The U.S. should, rather, have forged a tripartite partition of Bosnia, in expectation that the Croatian and Serbian republics would join a Greater Croatia and Greater Serbia, respectively."
(John J. Mearsheimer & Stephen Van Evera, "When Peace Means War," The New Republic, December 18, 1995)

Other analysts argue that the same demography, history and/or conflict show that redrawing borders will prolong conflict, undermine security, and impede economic revival. Instead, they say, regional cooperation and open borders are the only way to stabilize the region.

"TO ACHIEVE any progress toward self-sustaining stability in the Balkans, regional leaders must abandon their preoccupations with nineteenth-century concepts of nation-states and borders..
The necessary alternative to setting up new nation-states in the region is setting up new European and regional structures."
(Carl Bildt, "A Second Chance in the Balkans," Foreign Affairs, January/February 2001)

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Related Articles
 ·  Carl Bildt,
A Second Chance in the Balkans,
Foreign Affairs, January/February 2001

Text written by Radha Kumar and David Pacheco.
Copyright, Radha Kumar, 2007.